BY ZACHARY CORMIER
The 2016 football season was a crazy one for the Central Alberta Buccaneers organization.
Over the course of the past 12 months, the Bucs went from a middle-of-the-pack team in the Alberta Football League to a championship contender which posted an undefeated record in the regular season.
Meanwhile, off the field, the organization continued their charity work in the community, participating in multiple blood drives and food drives throughout the year.
“It was a fantastic year for the franchise. On the field we had the most success we’ve ever had – ever. Hands down,” said Buccaneers community representative Todd Lewis in an interview with the Express.
“Off the field we continue to be a force in the community. We continued blood drives and kids camps. We did our annual food drive and we raised about 2,000 pounds of food, half of which went to Fort McMurray because it was right during their fires. It was good both on and off the field.”
After the Bucs season came to an end at the hands of the Fort McMurray Monarchs in the AFL Final in late August, the team took some time off until late November, when they re-convened for their annual awards banquet.
Lewis said that normally, the team would try to hold the annual year-end celebration in October — closer to the acutal end of the season — but it was delayed this year due to scheduling.
“It was fantastic to just get all the guys together, especially that late after the season. It’s been awhile since we’ve all been together. So it was great to hang out and celebrate our season and all our successes,” said Lewis, who finished his two-term stint as Chairman of the Buccaneers at the end of the 2016 season.
Throughout the awards evening, the Bucs recognized some of the players that lead the way throughout their breakout season as a powerhouse team in the AFL.
Starting quarterback Brandon Leyh was named the team’s Most Valuable Player after a year where he set records in every offensive category for the Bucs, earning a nod as an AFL First Team All Star in the process.
“He hands down deserved it. The guy’s an amazing athlete and he carried our offense and was a fantastic leader with the team,” Lewis said.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Jamal Henry was named the team’s most valuable offensive player, Ryan Miller took home the hardware for most valuable defensive player and Lewis was named best special teams player.
“There were tons of guys this year that deserved awards that didn’t necessarily win awards or win awards that a lot of people talk about. Guys like Ian Keetch, who won Unsung Hero for our team. He’s obviously a huge impact player for us,” said new Bucs Chairman Markus Fay, who served as team captain of the Bucs last year.
“There’s tons of guys who were more than deserving to win awards and probably would have won MVP on many other teams in our league. We just had a really good roster this year and we had to spread the awards around.”
Unfortunately, the Buc’s fantastic year has not gone untouched by controversy. On Sept. 5th, the AFL released a statement on their Facebook page that AFL board had ruled that the Bucs had been “been found to have compensated a player during the 2016 season. This was found to be in violation of the compensation for players rules and conduct detrimental to the league,” the statement said.
As a result, the Bucs will begin the 2017 season as a probationary franchise in the AFL, according to a Dec. 18th post on the league’s Facebook page.
“There’s not really much to comment on right now. There’s some things that are being dealt with right now and there’s really not much we can do as far as letting people know what that is, because we don’t even know what that is. We’re just kind of letting the situation sort itself out.
“I don’t see the Bucs being under probationary status in the future but only time will tell,” said Fay when asked about the situation.
Despite the controversy, the Bucs will continue to press on and build on their success from last season as they head into 2017.
“I think the goal for this year is obviously winning our league and making a push for a National title, I don’t think that’s really out of the realm of possibility,” said Fay.
Lewis added that off the field, the team will continue to be involved in the community and is planning to start their off field activities with a blood drive on Jan. 14th in Red Deer.